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Is Wardrobe Minimalism Healthy?

Is a New Emphasis on Hashtag Minimalism Actually Better for the Planet or Women’s Mental Health?

Last month I participated in the #may30x30, which is a minimalism challenge to wear the same 30 items of clothing in differing combinations for 30 days. I posted a blog about it mid-month, which I will link to here. To sum up, I didn’t respond well too it, it made me sad. As the month wore on my mood continued the same.

But I think that even in (or especially in) experiences that make us unhappy is the potential to find out something about ourselves that we didn’t know or fully understand before. And if nothing else, the May 30×30 challenge REALLY got me thinking about clothing, and my emotional connection to it. In that respect the challenge was a complete success.

A few years ago “capsule wardrobes” started trending on my YouTube (and later Instagram) feeds. Women curating limited wardrobes for each season, picking versatile, quality items that would supposedly make getting dressed in the morning quicker, easier and somehow better. It made surface sense. Saving space in your home, owning fewer things that you don’t need or utilize, these all seemed like worthy, properly aspirational  goals. I followed along with interest. I liked the idea of having quality basics that I could wear again and again, and I loved the idea of shopping for them.

Everything I wore in May

Watching and emulating the edited-wardrobe styles of some of my favorite influencers has been really helpful for me in streamlining my own thought process about clothing. When shopping online or in stores I look at fewer things and I (mostly, sort of) buy fewer things. Since I know the colors, fabrics and cuts I like I absolutely buy many fewer things that are completely worthless to me than I did previously. I don’t stand in my closet wondering “What was I thinking?” nearly so often.

I am completely bought in to the idea that we need to reduce the amount of waste in the clothing industry, both on the production and consumer ends. I am also a fan of people looking well-polished and pulled-together (although *sigh* obviously you don’t have to if you don’t want to) so a system that lets people who don’t want to think about that kind of thing actually do it without thinking about it – that seemed good, right?

I clicked “follow” on more and more #ethical #capsule #sustainable #minimalist accounts. I watched more “Build your Ultimate Capsule Wardrobe” YouTube videos. I saw woman after woman after woman start to look like identical, beige automatons, wearing the same clothing from the same brands in the same colors. Talking about “investing” in “quality” “timeless” pieces that will last them season after season. Speaking to their cameras with increasing desperation, trying to convince the viewer that it was all #sustainable and #ethical and #minimalist and it was also so, so, so much #betterThanWhatYouCurrentlyHave. After all, do you have an #ethical #FairTrade #luxury #minimalist #naturalfiber blouse in this season’s hot new color to #invest in #updating your #capsulewardrobe? If not, here is your discount code! (#affiliatelink #sponcon #ad #giftedItem. Etc, etc. infinity.)

Because, you see, the influencer community is married to the fashion production/promotion community. They each need to use the others to pay their bills. A successful influencer exists solely because she is able to convince her followers to purchase things. Brands live and die depending on who is seen using them. Media outlets live only because they can sell advertising to companies who want to show products to people who want to visit their sites to see who’s using what. It’s a symbiotic set of relationships, and it all is built on the foundation that we, as consumers of content and goods, will go to the sites and look at the influencers and feel like we need the goods. That’s just how this portion of the economy works. And it’s going to be impossible for influencers to make fresh new content that doesn’t bore us unless they’re showing us something we haven’t seen before. And brands can’t sell anything if everyone is really wearing clothing from six summers ago.

So there is something a little rotten in Denmark from the outset, if you are catching my drift here. These people are trying to sell us all something really impossible to pull off because if we really bought into the #useLess philosophy they’re espousing, we’d all be paying $9,000 per blouse we buy once a decade, or every brand in the world would go broke. “Don’t buy most things, but for sure buy my thing.” is just a non-sustainable message. It’s working for now, but people will start to cotton on.  (Insert GIF of Wee-Bey rubbing his chin, in your mind.)

I have also seen women apologizing in their feeds for wearing old fast fashion pieces because they’re not from the better, more sustainable brands. (The same 6-7 of which do a whole heck of a lot of the #giftedItem #sponcon coincidentally – imagine that.)  I’ve even seen people arguing that wearing second-hand fast fashion is bad because it “encourages” fast fashion (when the whole argument with fast fashion is that people don’t wear it long enough and then we’re going to argue that women who are re-wearing things are also still wrong because…) This then all starts to feel classist and ugly, and not true to the stated mission. And that’s because it CAN’T be true to the stated mission and make anyone any money. It just can’t.

Everything Women Do Has to Be Extreme – Why Not This?

Aside from the capitalist conundrum above, the language around the #ethical #minimalist community has a dark flavor, and some troubling associations for me. I did the 30×30 and then I kind of got the concept of 10×10 (which is where you pack to go away for a weekend and make 10 outfits from 10 pieces.)  – 10×10 makes sense if you have limited space in a suitcase, for sure.

But then I saw women who were building wardrobes with “twenty pieces for three months!” And I have to wonder – why? What is the point of it, unless you have no actual closet space, or live out of a suitcase? Why restrict your wardrobe to that extent? I mean, following this to its logical conclusion has us all wearing the same one thing every day and showering in it while hopping on one leg, I guess. If you do that, you will have won The Fashion Games.

And then I followed an account that used some language that sounded really ugly and familiar.

Wardrobe minimalism Image with words "before every purchase, ask yourself, do I really need this?"
What does this remind you of?

I mean, they are straight-up borrowing language from the dieting community here. These are the types of diet tips that I grew up on in women’s magazines, before it (happily) became unacceptable to shill this kind of restrictive, unhealthy advice.

And once I started to look for it, I saw it everywhere. The rigid artificial constraints with little definable purpose other than showing self-discipline, the emphasis on having less than the next person, on being more austere, on that austerity being a form of moral superiority and purity. It was chilling. It’s like the mindset that created anorexia forums was looking for a new place to infect us, and it chose our closets. It makes sense. Women are so brutalized in modern society. We’re only rewarded for being quieter, less trouble, less disruptive, less visible. We’re trained to ask for less, to speak less, to BE less. And the world only works well for men if women convince themselves to want less. We are taught that all our pleasures are guilty ones, and that we have a responsibility to always be minimizing – our voices, our bodies, our ambition. It totally makes sense that this awful mindset would creep its way into something that is, at its heart, a positive movement. Why not take everything to an illogical, self-restrictive extreme? Women are excellent at that.

In keeping with that idea is the ugliness that I see in people commenting on other users’ content. Since you will now (rightly) get called out for critiquing someone’s physical appearance (and people’s mean-spirited competitive streaks apparently need some kind of outlet) it’s now in fashion for people to comment-troll others on the perceived lack of #sustainability in their posted content. If I have seen one YouTube comment castigating someone for a using a plastic straw, I have seen 1,000. People come into the comments to yell at influencers about unboxing videos, and then a whole different crew comes in to complain about a lack of fresh content. When you tell people not to be such assholes, they respond that they are “raising awareness” and want to “promote environmental issues.” Yeah, no you don’t. You just wanted to feel better than someone else for half a second, so you came and took a dump on something that someone worked hard to produce, then swanned away with an artificial, pseudo-religious, ethical high. Gross.

So What the Hell Do I Take Away From All This Nonsense, Susan?

Geez, at this point I don’t rightly know. I mean, the ideals of minimalism and the ethical fashion movement are excellent. Use less. Re-use what you have. Own only what makes you happiest. Simplify your life. I like those goals.

The fact that they are diametrically opposed to the goals of capitalism means we’re in for a really bumpy ride as we try to figure all of this out.

Human nature means that we’re probably going to take every opportunity to be shitty to each other about it, because that is just what we do.

In the meantime, clothing is FUN. Dressing up is FUN. I refuse to limit the fun I am having, and I refuse to be completely joyless and beige (even though I do really like a couple of all-beige looks I put together in May TBH). I will do my best to be better. I will wear used clothing and I will promote the circular economy and I will think more carefully about what I am buying and first and foremost I will take my own mental health into account.

I have a responsibility to be mentally self-sustaining. There is no point to anything if I hate myself and am miserable, so I refuse all things that push me in that direction, including competition with others and myself about who is the VERY BEST at saving the world today. I will do what I can. I hope you do the same. But don’t be mean to yourself about it, and for goodness’ sake, don’t be mean to other people about it.

So those are my thoughts on it. As always, I am eager to hear yours! Let me know on IG or in the comments on this post!

What I Wore in the May 30×30

Here’s everything I wore in May – in case you’re into that. There are 31 images here, but some days I changed clothes for the evening and some days I didn’t leave the house at all. So.

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